January 26, 2020: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as John the Baptist once said in describing our relationship with You: “He must increase and I must decrease;” Lord, make it so!  Make it so in our church relationships, in our families, among our friends and relatives.  Prevent ego enlargement and any sort of factionalism among us so that Your kingdom may be honored by our attitudes and motives.  Amen


TEXT:  I Cor. 1: 10-17

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Do you like being excluded from certain tight knit  circles of people?  Do you enjoy being the “odd man out” out at work, in the neighborhood, or even in the extended family?  Obviously, No.  Likewise, are you guilty of being exclusionary and looking down your nose at someone who is different?  That question is a bit harder to face, but we’re all guilty of it.  So, when it creeps into God’s church, well, “Houston, we have a problem.”


          I’m not preaching this today because Pinewood has trouble in this area.  Basically, everyone genuinely cares about each other here.  You’re all Christians and you want to let His light of love shine in and through you.  Likewise, our fellowship time after service each week is a wonderful time to care and share.  We strive to keep the “unity of the Spirit, via the bond of peace” via prayer, encouragement and being good listeners.  We all rally together when some is hurting in our midst—just like the meals on wheels informal program stemming from Elaine’s recent bout with meningitis.  But that doesn’t mean we’re perfect either as people, as a congregation, or a synod.

          Factionalism is a reality in any group.  Everyone has unique interests and abilities, gifts, given from God; that they want to share and talk about with like-minded souls.  Here we all are friends, but some of you are naturally closer to certain others because of this.  So, you generally sit with those closer friends in the hall after service.  You catch up on news with them and just give a nod or two to your other parishioners.  But, how do other folks perceive that behavior?  What about the overlooked folks who sit alone?  What about visitors who are overlooked?  What about the older folks who seemingly don’t share common interests with the younger ones?  But how much wisdom, experience , and insights these individuals possess!  So by sticking to your little circle of friends, how many of their blessings are you missing out on?


          St. Paul started the Corinthian congregation.  They were thriving, diverse, but also filled with prideful people.  They liked to play “one-upmanship” with each other.  And they didn’t do it about insignificant “stuff” but even about doctrine, or God’s truth.  As a result, factions and discord and divisions appeared in their ranks.  Read the entire epistle and you’ll soon discover how nasty it had become.  So Paul had to write and warn them against falling into this trap of pride and ego.  “Be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

          I started  out in the prayer today reminding you of St. John the Baptist’s reminder to his followers concerning Christ where he said of Jesus: “He must increase and I must decrease.”  Is that your motto, too?  It should be, but it wasn’t in the Corinthian church.  Instead, because of ego they tried to play off their relationships with other church leaders of the time.  “I follow Paul; I follow Apollos (a gifted orator); I follow Cephas (or Peter the spokesman for the 12); or “I follow Christ.”  All of these humans preached salvation by Christ alone.  They were all blest by their Savior.  Their unity in His love, forgiveness, and His resurrection all centered on Christ.  There was no disunity between them and Jesus.  So, why try to create one?  It’s all about personal pride, isn’t it?  It’s all ego-driven. 


          I often wonder how visitors to their meetings were received and how they perceived such behavior?  Here these Christians confessed their allegiance to Christ alone, and yet they bragged about one church leader over and against another.  They often made petty issues into big conflicts to bolster their standing.  Paul adopts here an angry tone of righteous indignation.  “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”  Then he adds that only two of their membership were baptized by him and he’s thankful no one else was because they’d probably end up using that fact as a source of more discord!  In short, Paul shames them. 

          Now Paul ends of his little diatribe: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”   The power of the cross is God’s boundless love for us shown in what Christ earned for us on it—the forgiveness of sins.  Let that sink in. God loves us so much that He sent His Son to suffer and die and bleed to save your soul.  To save us from soul-destroying death caused by human pride.  So, if we ever act contrary to that fact for whatever reason, well, we’re really spiting the Spirit and chipping away at the cross’ power. 

          I learned long ago this important question: “Do my actions and words glorify God, or not?”  Is my life about submerging my ego to help and uplift those I meet, or not?  Is my existence about building up other struggling souls, or is it about feeding my ego?  He must increase, but I must decrease.”  If all Christians adopted John’s motto, think how much happier and fulfilled all of us would be!  Lord, by the Spirit’s power make it so!  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

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